Athletes will spend hours in the gym or with a trainer to improve functionality, increase strength and endurance as well as become faster. This training is essential for any athlete that wants to reach their full potential, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.
The most overlooked part of any good sports performance-training plan is nutrition and unknowingly many athletes are not reaching their full potential because of it. Imagine you have a brand new car with a finely tuned and powerful engine. Then imagine what would happen if you tried to get the most out of that car without oil or gas. This is exactly what happens when an athlete trains their body physically and overlooks the fuel they need, proper nutrition.
Let’s start with the basics. Eating well provides your body with the energy it needs to perform at its best and recover quickly. An athlete who does not fuel his or her body will tire easily and perform poorly and be overpowered by an athlete that is properly fueled, it’s just that simple. But what does eating well mean?
For an athlete to be their best they need healthy sources of complex carbohydrates, this is an athlete’s main energy source. Carbs are stored in muscle tissue where they remain until they are needed, such as during your workout or competition. Healthy sources of carbs are whole grain pasta, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain breads, vegetables and beans. These foods not only fuel your body for top sports performance, they also provide healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber plus they help your body keep a healthy pH level, which is very overlooked not only by the general public, but by coaches and athletes.
When you eat acidic foods such as meats, dairy and sugary foods your pH level will turn acidic in turn leaching nutrients from your bones and muscles to regulate it. All great reasons to adopt a healthy, energy giving and natural performance enhancing diet. It is estimated that an athlete’s diet should consist of roughly 60-70% complex carbohydrates, depending on their sport, so feel free to load up on these super nutritious foods.
A few alkaline forming foods are cantaloupe, mango, melons, seedless grapes, watercress, kiwi, pineapples, sweet apples, sweet pears, avocado, carrots, celery, spinach, grapefruit, dates/figs and almonds,
Foods to shy away from on the acidic side are white sugar, white flour, beef, pork, carbonated soft drinks, fizzy drinks, turkey, black tea, table salt, chicken, white pasta, jellies and jams. Does the acidic side look familiar? It should as this is what the majority of the United States consumes and what is continuously promoted. Which is a big reason for so much illness.
What about protein? Protein is the most misunderstood nutrient when it comes to athletic performance. No thanks to the overwhelming marketing over the years, many people think that they need to load up on protein in order to be strong, build muscle and have energy but this is a myth. The only thing that makes muscles change and grow is strength training, exercise and the right amount of caloric intake based on level of activity and goals. And as mentioned earlier, carbohydrates stored in muscle tissue and are used for energy. Protein does however sustain muscle tissue, which is proteins role in sports performance.
Surprisingly to some, an athlete can take it all the protein they need by eating a varied diet of nutritious whole foods because protein is hiding just about everywhere. It is in vegetables, especially dark-colored vegetables. It is in whole grains. It is in beans and tofu and nuts. There are also many great raw protein powders out there and we are fortunate to be living in a time when non-dairy protein rich alternatives are everywhere. I feel that non-dairy milks such as almond, rice, hemp and soy milk, yogurt and cheeses are the better choice because they are better digested so they create more energy plus they have no cholesterol or saturated fats. They are also filled with calcium. The same is true about meat alternatives, the taste and quality of these products is greatly improved compared to years ago.
Lastly, we can’t discuss fuel without discussing water. Water, and lots of it, is essential to an athlete’s function. It is the only fluid that any of us need to live and it especially aids athletes in fighting off dehydration. Often an athlete will dehydrate even though they have been drinking beverages if those beverages are sodas or iced teas, etc. Water before during and after a workout or game is crucial for functionality and good health.